November 22, 2020
WELCOME AND ANNOUNCEMENTS
Due to Covid Numbers on the rise we are currently closed until further notice
As Presbyterians and people of the Reformed Tradition, we believe that our salvation is solely by Christ. That is, we cannot earn our place in heaven; there is not enough work to do to earn eternal life. We believe that we are saved only by the life, death and resurrection of Christ Jesus. And then, we read today’s scripture, Matthew 25. And we wonder if we are misunderstanding what Jesus says or what we have been taught.
Today I am going to encourage us to look at this scripture from a different vantage point. Not, what does this say about us; but, what does the scripture say about Jesus? We know it is significant, because so much of the scripture is repetition. And, as Kirk said, repetition in the Bible means the words are being emphasized; Jesus is telling us to listen and to pay attention to these important points. And, Jesus is telling us that he is a different kind of king. We know that Jesus gave up his name, position, power to come to earth; to show us how to love. This specific scripture tells us even more about Jesus and the kind of king that He is. Jesus is not found in a castle or on a throne. He is not found in places where men and women of power live and work. Rather, Jesus is found among the least of people. Jesus says, “Blessed are you if you care for those who are in great need; BECAUSE when you care for those, you are caring for me! Jesus is with the hungry and the thirsty. We know we are to give; to share with those who have less, because they are our sisters and brothers in Christ Jesus. But, this scripture is saying more. Jesus says, if you feed the least of these, you are feeding me. Pow! Mind explosion! Certainly, we might be startled by what this means! Jesus can be found with those who have very little; not with those who have a lot. In other words, Jesus is less likely to be with us – because we have much. This realization should make us take a deep breath and consider how we first take care of ourselves; and then, how we treat others. Not just how we treat the hungry and thirsty, but how we also treat the sick, those in prison, those who are strangers and those who have nothing or little to wear.
I encourage each of you to sit for awhile with this idea: that when we are in a relationship with others; especially when we are coming from our place of comfort, wealth and power, we need to treat others with respect and dignity. We are not to just give our castaway torn clothes, expired canned goods, and worn appliances. Rather, we are to give good and decent donations. We might think those in need are a nameless and hopeless crowd. But this scripture tells us that Jesus is there, in that space, with those in need. No longer can we think the needy are a nameless group; now, we can be sure that we know one person in that group; we know Jesus; and , we now know that Jesus is there, with them. Whether we are going through our closets, to remove unneeded clothes, or we are at the grocery store, purchasing food for the hungry, we need to think about what people want and need; what they can really use, rather than what is best for our lives. I don’t need to tell you that no one has need for well-worn shoes, or for boots with holes. Jeans with broken zippers and slacks with torn seams don’t work for us; why would they work for the needy? We are taught to give God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit our best. Now, we find that Jesus is with the homeless, the naked, the hungry, the sick, the thirsty, those we do not know, and those in prison. This scripture calls us to give away our best. We aren’t to “scrape the bottom of the bucket” and give whatever is left. Rather, we are to treat all people like they deserve the best. Giving less than our best, is saying that they are only worthy of our leftovers. Giving less than our best is saying we are judging you and we find that you are not believable; that it’s your fault you are in need; and, that your lives are hopeless, worthless, so here is a just a little something for you, until you pull yourself up out of that place of neediness.
Jesus says treat everyone with love, dignity and respect, because each person is worthy; each person is God’s beloved child. Jesus is that Shepherd we heard about in the Old Testament reading today. The Good Shepherd cares for all the sheep who are in need. The Good Shepherd pays particular attention to the underfed, the weak, the lost and the little ones. That Shepherd sets aside the big, powerful, pushy and greedy sheep; the sheep that pushed with muscle and might, to get more and more; and, to keep others from getting what they need. Last week, I said we are the body of Christ, called to go out into the world. This Sunday, I add to that. As the church, we know the love of God; but, unfortunately, sometimes, we act like we alone have the power of God. This scripture lesson tells us otherwise. Jesus says that He is with those in need; in other words, the needy have God in and among themselves. We can see and fully experience the love of God when we give generously, without judgement to those who are hungry, thirsty, strangers, in prison, homeless or naked. This, then, is when we know we are doing the right thing: that we see the presence of God, with us, as we are sent out. AND, we see the presence of God in those whom we serve. In James 2:14-26, we read that faith without works is dead. It isn’t that we are to have faith and then earn our way to eternal life. No! What Jesus and James are saying is that caring for others, good works, if you will, are the full expression of loving God. We can say we love God; we can claim to be Christ’s disciples, but, unless our actions match these words, we are dishonest. Following Christ’s example, we are to respond to others with love, mercy and sharing what we have. If we don’t care for others, then we are not loving, not faithful, not with God. Once again, actions speak louder and clearer than words. When we welcome strangers, when we feed and clothe those in need, when we visit the sick and those in prison, we are doing what Jesus did: We are demonstrating our love for God.
The Good News about this is that there are times in our lives, when we are among those in need. Sure, we might never need a donation of food, drink, clothes or home. We might never be a stranger or in an actual prison. But, there will be times, when we are sick and alone; times when we feel like a prisoner in our own homes, times when we feel so alone, like an unwelcome stranger. At those times, God in Christ is with us, just as Jesus is with the needy, giving comfort, strength, love and resilience to make it through another day … and night. Jesus is giving us such Good News with this scripture. That Jesus is both with us as we go out and, there waiting for us, with those in need. And, Jesus is with us, when we are the ones in need.
Most kings rule with fear, authority and power; telling others what to do, how to do it and when to do it. Most kings want honor, praise and glory. Most rulers have and continue to want the most and the best. Our king, King Jesus is not like most kings. He came to love, to serve and to empower us to be loving and merciful. As we look to Thanksgiving and Christmas, we might be discouraged because our holidays will not be the same, due to Covid-19. So, this holiday season, let’s make the holidays different for everyone. Let’s give our best: feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing and homes, to those in need. Let’s reach out to the sick and those in prison, with letters and phone calls. And, then … let’s continue that in January and February, when the need at food pantries and elsewhere is especially big. Then we will receive the best gift – joy! In giving to others, we will see Jesus; and we will be joy-filled. Now and forevermore. Amen.